BUCKLAND, Ohio – While Chris Bush watches news reports about U.S. soldiers in Iraq, her hands are busy knitting colorful, coaster-sized prayer squares she hopes will eventually join them.
She's one of 18 church volunteers who have made and shipped hundreds of the squares to Iraq. The hope is that soldiers will carry them in their pockets or tuck them under a pillow and know someone in America cares.
"It makes us feel a little less helpless," said Bush, 54, of nearby Wapakoneta.
The squares aren't the only things on their way to Iraq. Troops and service agencies are being inundated with mass donations of everything from underwear and chili to compact discs and Bibles.
There's been such a crush of gifts that the Defense Department has asked the public to stop mailing unsolicited packages to members of the military near or at the front lines. The Pentagon wants the mailings limited to family members, loved ones or personal friends of soldiers.
"People who are giving probably feel a responsibility to the soldiers and also want to show support to the families of the soldiers," said Abe Wandersman, a community psychologist at the University of South Carolina who has done research on volunteerism.
In Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, the American Red Cross three weeks ago asked for donations of "quality of life" items for soldiers — candy, books, CDs, movies and toiletries.
After about a week, it had to begin turning donations away. The national office told them to stop collecting because there was a four-month supply waiting to be sent.
"I know we're going to have troops overseas for a long time," said Dave Fotsch, spokesman for the American Red Cross in Boise. "We'll have to see in four months where we stand."
The Red Cross has said Americans might consider sending e-mail greetings, supporting relief societies or helping military families at home.
Still, the donations come. They arrive at post offices, veterans groups and military bases for shipment to the troops. Sometimes, newly deployed soldiers are asked to carry the gifts.
In the northeast Ohio city of Warren, the workbench in Jeannette Sanders' garage is stacked with boxes of underwear and toiletries. She and 30 volunteers have filled 150 boxes and mailed 110 to the troops.
Sanders, whose two sons are in Iraq and Kuwait, started collecting the items after one son asked her to take $600 out of his bank account so he could buy underwear, socks and snacks for his fellow soldiers.
"When they're out in the sand, they can't take showers. And there's not a place to wash anything," said Sanders, 48. "Do you want to wear the same yucky underwear and socks for weeks?"
Sanders remains determined to send all she can. She is mailing care packages on behalf of anyone who has the overseas address of a soldier who wants one.
"If I have to hire my own jet, I'm going to get this stuff there," Sanders said. "To me, they're all my children. Until every one of them are home, I won't stop. This is keeping me from crying."
Ruth Cain, of Midwest City, Okla., sent 4,000 donated lightweight firefighter masks last month after watching television footage of soldiers suffering through sand storms.
Joan Shay, of Cincinnati, is hoping to send enough cans of chili to feed all 5,000 sailors aboard the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier where her daughter's boyfriend is stationed.
Shay, manager of a chili store, has collected several hundred donated cans of chili as well as money to ship them. "They all need to know we haven't forgotten about them," she said.
Lynn Cox, 32, has collected 80 new and used Bibles around Fountain City, Wis., to be sent to the troops. About 40 Bibles are on their way overseas courtesy of the Veterans of Foreign War organization.
And students at St. Francis Borgia Grade School in Washington, Mo., donated disposable cameras. The first few photos were taken of students holding up signs of support.
"A taste of home when you're far away means a tremendous amount," said Megan Fox, a Pentagon spokeswoman in Washington D.C.
The idea for Bush's prayer squares came after she read a letter from a co-worker — a Marine in Iraq who agonized about having to contact the families of soldiers under his command if something happened to them.
Bush knew her church had leftover yarn from prayer shawls that had been knitted for the families of soldiers, cancer victims and other residents in and around the village of about 300 people. She wanted the yarn put to use.
At least one soldier loves his prayer square.
"I've got it in my left chest pocket," the soldier wrote in an e-mail to his grandmother. "I thought that would be the best place — right over my heart."